The NBA's 64th season tips off Tuesday night. Who are the players and what are the stories that will shape the next eight months? SI.com's Ian Thomsen offers a sneak peek ...
6 trends that will emerge this season
The Arms Race Continues
With five leading contenders -- the Lakers, Celtics, Cavaliers, Spurs and Magic -- well into the luxury tax already, each will continue to seek the ultimate advantage by trying to pick up additional talent during the season, whether by trades or contract buyouts.
The Weak Grow Weaker
Non-contenders will seek to improve their cap flexibility or simply slash payroll by continuing to feed talent to the contenders.
The Pressure Will Grow On David Stern And Billy Hunter
As the divide grows between the rich markets and the poor, the two negotiators must work toward a reinvention of the collective bargaining agreement in hopes of avoiding a lockout in 2011-12.
Which Free Agent Will Be The First To Jump?
(A) Will LeBron James or Dwyane Wade tip his hand? (B) Will Joe Johnson or Chris Bosh declare an intention to leave during the season? (C) Or will the mystery of the 2010 free-agent class go without resolution throughout the season, creating ever more speculation about the summer ahead? The answer will likely be (C).
Teams Will Be More Careful
In anticipation of a new CBA that will bring shorter and cheaper contracts, more teams will be conservative in offering max money over the year ahead -- while a few others will exploit that hesitancy by offering big money in hopes of stealing a talent off the market.
The Tempo Continues To Quicken
Because that will be the best antidote to beat the dominant hybrid defenses that marry man-to-man and zone principles in the half court.
7 regular-season awards
MVP: LeBron James, Cavaliers
As with Michael Jordan, it will be hard for anyone else to separate James from this award in the years to come.
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, Clippers
He'll face a run from Warriors guard Stephen Curry, but Griffin will prevail while helping the Clippers double their win total from last season.
Coach of the Year: Flip Saunders, Wizards
He'll make everyone look better this year in Washington.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard, Magic
His stats (blocks and boards) will be overwhelming, helping him to stiff-arm a challenge from Kevin Garnett.
Most Improved Player: Derrick Rose, Bulls
This year the best rookie becomes one of the league's best point guards.
Sixth Man Award: Manu Ginobili, Spurs
He sets the standard as a future Hall of Famer coming off the bench.
Executive of the Year: Ernie Grunfeld, Wizards
Coming off a 63-loss season, he rejected a fire sale while hiring Saunders and acquiring Mike Miller and Randy Foye to fill out a talented roster.
3 All-NBA teams
G Dwyane Wade, Heat
G Kobe Bryant, Lakers
F LeBron James, Cavaliers
F Kevin Garnett, Celtics
C Dwight Howard, Magic
G Chris Paul, Hornets
G Deron Williams, Jazz
F Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
F Tim Duncan, Spurs
C Shaquille O'Neal, Cavaliers
G Gilbert Arenas, Wizards
G Brandon Roy, Trail Blazers
F Paul Pierce, Celtics
F Pau Gasol, Lakers
C Al Jefferson, Timberwolves
12 people facing major challenges
Mike Brown, Cavaliers coach
He rates among the league's most impressive young coaches, yet Brown must win a championship this season amid the pressure of LeBron's pending free agency.
Stan Van Gundy, Magic coach
Though other contenders have also improved, he'll be expected to build on last season's trip to the Finals while incorporating new personalities and styles of play.
Gilbert Arenas, Wizards
He'll be expected to play at a high level coming off two years of injuries. As with every NBA star, it's a small price to pay for all of that money.
Bryan Colangelo, Raptors president
Can he re-sign Chris Bosh? Should he trade him?
Ron Artest, Lakers
Can a newcomer be expected to improve the reigning champion? But that much is expected of Artest -- a flattering demand for sure.
Shaquille O'Neal, Cavaliers
If the Cavs don't win, he'll get much of the blame. But he likes it this way.
Greg Oden, Trail Blazers
In an NBA world built virtually on perception and opinion, Year 2 will be crucial for the former No. 1 pick.
Carlos Boozer, Jazz
He needs a full year of health to raise his stock as a free agent next summer -- if not for the trade market in February.
Byron Scott, Hornets coach
In the final season of his contract, he is being asked to return New Orleans to its standing of two years ago. (He was a lame duck at that time, too.)
Steve Kerr, Suns president
Should he re-sign Amar'e Stoudemire? Or move everybody and start anew?
Tracy McGrady, Rockets
He is hungry to prove his athleticism is back following two knee surgeries over the past two years.
Allen Iverson, Grizzlies
He has been handed an opportunity to show leadership for a young team with zero expectations. Amid skepticism from many around the league that he won't help Memphis improve, Iverson can overcome the stigma of last season at Detroit.